The community-based Early Head Start programs are based on a foundation of nine principles:
- High Quality: A commitment to high quality means that programs will develop policies and practices that are founded in the knowledge, skills, and professional ethics embraced by the fields of child development, family development, and community building. Of particular importance is an understanding of the unique nature of infant and toddler development. Program practices must spring from an awareness of both the opportunities for intervention and the fact that young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of a negative caregiving environment. The commitment on the part of the Federal government to ensure program quality includes the training and technical assistance network, the program performance standards, and research and evaluation activities.
- Prevention and Promotion: The proactive promotion of healthy child development and family functioning begins before conception, and continues prenatally, upon birth, and through the early years. With an emphasis on promoting healthy development, the prevention and detection of developmental concerns should occur at the earliest possible time.
- Positive Relationships and Continuity: Strong positive relationships that continue over time are key elements in a high quality program. These relationships include the child, family, and staff, and recognize the parent-child bond as the child's most significant relationship. Infant and toddler caregiving practices must support child attachment by minimizing the number of different caregivers and supporting long-term caregiving relationships. The relationship between staff and family is based on respect for the child and family's home culture.
- Parent Involvement: The Early Head Start initiative supports the highest level of parent involvement and partnership. Programs will make a special effort to support the role of fathers in parenting activities. Programs will recognize the parents as the child's primary nurturers and advocates. Parents will also be active participants in policy and decision-making roles.
- Inclusion: Programs will welcome and fully include children with disabilities. The individual needs of each child will be evaluated and responded to in a way that builds upon individual strengths. Programs will also support the child and family's full participation in community activities.
- Culture: The home culture and language of each family will be supported as an important aspect of early identity formation. Programs will also explore the role of culture and language in child and family development, and community values and attitudes.
- Comprehensiveness, Flexibility, Responsiveness, and Intensity: Program services are grounded in the belief that all families can identify their own needs and strengths, set their own goals, and are capable of growth. Thus, programs must maintain the flexibility to respond with varying levels of intensity based on families' needs and resources.
- Transitions: Programs are responsible for facilitating a smooth transition from Early Head Start into Head Start or other high quality programs and support services. A smooth transition is important to ensure each child continues to receive enriching early child development services and each family continues to receive the support services necessary to healthy family development.
- Collaboration: Collaboration with local community agencies and service providers will maximize the resources available to families with young children in a cost-efficient and comprehensive manner. Early Head Start programs, with the recognition that no one program can meet all of a child and family's needs, will seek to build strong alliances within the communities in which they operate.